Winter weather driving tips

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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Officials recommend drivers stay off the roads and at home during dangerous winter conditions. However, If you have to travel, AAA, VDOT and Virginia State Police have the following tips on how to remain safe on the road:

Watch out for icy roads:

  • Watch for black ice. Although it is mostly invisible, pavement with black ice will be a little darker and duller than the rest of the road surface. It commonly forms on highly shaded areas, infrequently traveled roads, and on bridges and overpasses.
  • Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses. Bridges and overpasses freeze first and melt last. Therefore, use extra caution as the roadway leading up to the bridge may appear fine but the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.
  • Be extra aware of the traffic ahead. If you see brake lights, fish tailing cars, sideways cars or emergency flashers, slow down even more.
  • Control the skid. If you are approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will only throw you into a skid. In the event you find your car is skidding, ease off of the accelerator or brake, and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
  • To maximize stopping power and maintain control, squeeze the brakes with your toes. With your heel on the floor, squeeze the brake pedal gently with your toes. The anti-lock system will make the pedal pulsate. Don’t panic, this is normal. Continue to apply braking pressure.
  • If your car doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, you need to use the following threshold braking technique: Squeeze the brake pedal with your toes, and, when you feel the wheels begin to lock, ease off the pressure slightly and hold it there.
  • Never use cruise control. Cruise control is not recommended when ice is on the road as the driver should be in full control of the vehicle at every second.
  • Drive in cleared lanes. Changing lanes unnecessarily puts you at greater risk of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that may cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

Follow the ABC’s:

  • Allow more time. Leave earlier than normal on morning when icy conditions are possible.
  • Brake slowly. Jerky motions increase the risk of skidding. Begin to slow earlier and avoid locking up the brakes. If you start to skid, stay off the brakes and accelerator and don’t shift gears. Simply look and steer in the direction you want the car to go. Never accelerate during a spin. It will only make matters worse.
  • Consider more space. The average following distance you need between you and the car in front in GOOD conditions is 3 to 4 seconds. On slick and icy roads at least 6 to 8 seconds of following distance is recommended. That way you can either stop or move to another lane easier if the car in front begins to slide.

Don’t forget state laws. Here are some tips from VSP: 

  • State law requires headlights to be on when windshield wipers are in active use.
  • Know your location to give to an emergency dispatcher to include the direction of travel in case you need emergency response. Use exit numbers or mile markers when on the interstate as points of reference (For example, Interstate 95 northbound at the 80 mile marker.
  • Motorists should comply with Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires drivers to change to another travel lane or, when not able to, to cautiously pass emergency personnel stopped on the side of the road. State law includes highway maintenance vehicles and tow trucks equipped with flashing amber lights.
  • Plan ahead before you travel by calling 511 for road conditions or click on http://www.511virginia.org
  • Completely clear all windows and head/taillights of snow/ice before traveling.
  • Add extra time to reach travel destination.
  • Slow your speed for road conditions.
  • Increase driving distances between vehicles for increased stopping distance.
  • Do not tailgate snow plows or sand trucks.
  • Always buckle up and ensure your passengers are buckled up as well.
  • Do not drive distracted
  • If your vehicle begins to hydroplane steer your vehicle in the direction you want your vehicle to go.
  • Brake and accelerate lightly.

Keep a winter weather driving kit your vehicle:

  • Blanket
  • Ice scraper
  • Flares/reflective triangles
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • Bag of abrasive material, such as cat litter
  • Shovel
  • Cloth/paper towels
  • Cell phone with a full charge
  • Keep snacks in case your vehicle becomes disabled

Know the road conditions before you leave:

Visit http://www.511virginia.org or dial 511 from any phone for real-time traffic information and road condition reports or visit http://www.virginiadot.org for the latest road reports or listing of closed roads during a major winter weather event.

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